Numbering of Figures?

Subject: Numbering of Figures?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 14:23:43 -0400

Mike Stockman wonders: <<Why do people number figures and tables at all? As
a user, I've never needed to use a list of figures or list of tables, and in
the text, writing "The following window appears" or "This diagram
indicates..." or "The following table shows the possible values for..."
usually suffices.>>

Think outside the software documentation box and you'll see why. In the
scientific reports I've been editing for close on 20 years, it's common to
have multiple figures on the same page. Sure, you could say "the middle
right figure on page 27", but isn't "Figure 12" clearer? If you've got
dozens of figures, simply saying "the one you saw back in Chapter 3" isn't
going to help anyone find out what you're talking about.

<<If the sole purpose of numbering figures/tables/etc. is to refer to them
in text, a title, page number, or (in hypertext) direct link will work just
as well, I think.>>

Nope. Figure titles, at least in the sciences, can get quite long, and
particularly so when there are subfigures (e.g., it's common to compare
Figure 12 a, b, and c in a single visual field). Much more concise to refer
to the number. The reason figure numbering continues to be used more than a
century after it was invented is simple: it works better than the

<<It also makes the conversion to hypertext media easier, since any
sequential numbering system will likely be meaningless when the user may
jump to a section randomly.>>

Which is all very well, but what about stuff that's designed primarily for
print publication? Where science stuff is being moved onto the Web, it would
be interesting to investigate the benefits from repeating figures right next
to where they're cited rather than forcing readers to follow a link back to
the original appearance of the figure. In fact, I've done exactly that in
some print publications way back when, and it seemed to be an effective

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an
accumulation of facts is no more science than a heap of stones is a
house"--Jules Henri Poincaré

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